The Rap-Up: Week of March 23, 2020

The Rap-Up returns with new bangers from Ghostie, Quelle Chris, and more.
By    March 23, 2020

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Mano Sundaresan wrote these bars while drinking a twelve-pack of Corona.

Ghostie – “Led Paint”

As an unprecedented virus encroaches on our planet, trapping daily life behind windows and in front of screens, the question remains: What is the art for our times? For many, it’s been assorted memorabilia: D-Nice playing a virtual throwback set for 100,000 pairs of eyes and ears; a Charlie Villanueva highlight tape getting hundreds of retweets; rankings of Three 6 Mafia songs and DJ Premier beats. Maybe it’s because all this art is serving a broader function, community-building, acting as a digital placeholder for those conversations and interactions we might’ve had in real life.

What’s resonated on a deeper level with me has been this new Ghostie album. Released weeks before any of this started in the U.S., Self Hate Wraith is oddly prescient, speaking to a personal dystopia as every Ghostie project does. His is a private hell marked by heavy drinking, struggling to get by in West Baltimore, and putting food on his kid’s plate. Pulling from a smattering of influences which couldn’t possibly be listed out in an appropriately-sized blurb (drum ‘n’ bass, emo and synthpop are three) it stretches the scope of what might be considered a rap album (if it even should be) in the way Tyler, the Creator’s IGOR did last year.

Across these 24 tracks — some sketches, others sprawling with multiple movements — Ghostie sings, raps, cries, and screams about feeling alone, about fearing eviction, about guzzling all the liquor in his cabinet, about racing thoughts that we could never comprehend but can feel viscerally. “Led Paint” immediately stands out for its composition — a soft, feverish ballad that cuts like a nightmare into overdriven synths, Amber Alert alarms, and Ghostie soaring above it all.

Quelle Chris, Chris Keys, Joseph Chilliams, & Cavalier – “Living Happy”

Few rappers stick to a theme and approach it with nuance as well as Quelle Chris. The title track off last year’s Guns was a masterclass in rap poeticism, this century’s “I Gave You Power” or “Stray Bullet.” Chris was talking about guns by personifying one, coming to a city near you. 

On this one, he’s just died, and he’s greeted by a rush of euphoria and a choir of angels chanting, “Face down, ass up, face down ass up,” then running through decades of dance moves. Then Chris is back in Brooklyn, receiving sage advice from his uncle on letting his feelings go. Joseph Chilliams rushes out of a shot-up party with a girl. Cavalier copped the new Js and some fresh Burberry. In their own ways, they’re all living happy, but you knew that as soon as Chris Keys’ uplifting piano chords came in.

Quin NFN – “All Blues”

Quin NFN is practically beaming through the flutes and keys of this summery CioMadeTheTrack instrumental, delivering one melodic burst after another with joy and velocity. This is an approach to Southern street rap with roots in the eccentrics of the last decade — Thug, Future, Gates, etc. — that has been flattened by their spiritual children into a palatable form, and then by A&Rs into a beige, co-optable sound. To hear an artist actually pull it off while remaining authentic is rare and remarkable. Add Quin NFN to the list of those who can.

DJ Lucas – “Strange Art Rap Decisions”

The latest in the Western Mass hero’s “Art Rap” series finds him stuck at home amid swaths of farmland and a crumbling hipster nation, deciding whether now is the time to go full art rap. He does. He stammers and stumbles around the woods and breakdances in Latex gloves. An essential slice of Dark World Records lore that you’ll get after the second listen or not at all. (If you want more conventional rapping his new tape DJ Van Halen is very good.)

Vanderslice & G Perico – “Barry White Shit”

Vanderslice, the PA producer who cut his teeth working with some of 2000s underground rap’s finest, found one of this era’s great classicists, and together they struck gold. This is a minute of soul that you want to last forever. G Perico better have some extra beats from this session lying around for his next tape.

WTM Scoob – “December 4th”

There is an air of resilience, spiritedness, and entrepreneurship around popular Detroit street rap that often leaves more heartfelt cuts like this in the dust. WTM Scoob delivers a beautiful ode to his deceased brother here. He raps plainly and skillfully, wielding his talent to bare his humanity. And that humanity is revealed in the ways it tends to in these moments. Scoob questions God, takes drugs, mourns with his sister, and plans to go harder than ever.

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